The 2018 Midterms have been billed as a referendum on President Donald Trump. Most midterms elections are considered a referendum on the US President. Not only do they reflect the amount of support the President has gained or lost over the two years since his campaign victory, midterms are an opportunity for voters to cement or transform the ideological composition of government. They are also a chance for the American People to register their support or disapproval for the President’s policy agenda. This is particularly true when it comes to congressional and gubernatorial contests. Although there are local elections occurring within the umbrella of the midterms and all candidates run on issues tailored to local concerns, elections have been “nationalized” to the point local issues and concerns have taken a backseat. To boot, the focus of midterms is no longer national issues. The 2018 midterms are largely “no Issues” elections geared toward power politics, which is why they serve as a referendum on President Trump to a large degree.
Local government has the greatest potential to best represent the views and interests of American citizens. Absent corruption, the undue influence of special interests, and a lack of voter participation, local officials are chosen by the smallest number of people, so voters have a greater say on who is elected. Assuming voters have choices that truly represent their diverse views, the views of a voter are more likely to be reflected by their elected official. More local governments are, therefore, more representative of the People than more national governments. City officials are more likely to represent the concerns of community members than State officials while State officials are more likely to represent the interests of State residents than federal officials. Federal and State governments exist, of course, to serve as a check on local governments that might engage in discriminatory policies against under-represented groups and as an administrative body capable of addressing issues that reach beyond community borders, but local governments should theoretical best represent the interests of the People.
Local government does not, however, exist in a bubble. Local and State governments, as well as the Federal government, exist in a political environment dominated by bigger governments. In the special case of the United States Federal government, the US has greater influence over the geopolitical environment of the International Community than the International Community has over the United States. Inside the United States, the California State government is probably one of the few State governments that can regularly challenge the influence of the US Federal government. Nonetheless, the policies and politics of Washington decide what policy agendas more local governments can and cannot pursue. Washington politics are, in turn, dominated key officials like the President, who happens to be Donald Trump. Similarly, most county and city governments are limited in what they can accomplish due to the overriding influence of their State governments. Because the policies and pursuits of all public officials are strongly shaped by the political environment in which they operate, local candidates are beholden to national politics. Candidates can run on whatever messages they want, but their political agenda must somewhat align with the political agendas of State and Federal officials or their ambitions will encounter resistance, especially if their plans rely on State and Federal support.
That said, US Congressmen and Senators are elected to represent the interests of all their constituents, even those who did not vote for them. Like their State counterparts, State governors, and local officials, members of Congress are limited by the political environment in which they operate. Their job is to give their constituents a voice at the table of government as they work to shape national policy. It is not the job of Congressmen and Senators to abuse their power over the Federal government to cater to the interests of their constituents and flood their States with pork. Obviously, representatives should reflect the interests of their constituents most of the time, but the need for governance by consensus means members of Congress are often forced to reach compromises that their constituents might disagree with while political dysfunction also prevents them from fulfilling their duties. This reality is one of the reasons candidates for the US House of Representatives and the US Senate cannot honestly campaign on local concerns and pledge to deliver on a laundry list of campaign promises. Another reason is that Congressional candidates are beholden to national political and policy agendas.
Midterm elections largely serve as referendums on the US President, because candidates can only realistically accomplish a public policy agenda that aligns with that of the US President. Candidates may want to focus on local concerns and voters may want their representatives in government to focus on their concerns, but the simple truth is that elected officials are bound by political and policy agendas of the most influential people and special interests groups in Washington. Clearly, there is room for local officials to pursue agendas that better reflect the interests of voters and national officials can influence the political environment in which they operate to push their own agendas, but all things in government are governed by national politics and policy. At the moment, Donald Trump is driving both. He tends to cater to the far-Right, but his agenda is erratic and more defined by his personal whims than any ideological allegiance. A vote against Trump’s Republican Party will decrease his control over government and send a message of repudiation against him personally. A vote for Trump’s Republican Party will increase his control over government and send a message of support for his unorthodox brand of theater.
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